Dancers, Visual Artists Share the Stage at ICA

BY Molly Finnegan  November 9, 2011 at 3:24 PM EST

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The Institute of Contemporary Arts/Boston is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. To help mark the occasion, the museum opened a centerpiece exhibition called “Dance/Draw,” which explores “the dynamic exchange taking place between visual art and dance today.”

“Dance/Draw,” which runs through Jan. 16, 2012, brings together work by nearly 40 artists and looks at the relationship between contemporary dance and drawing over the last 50 years.

Art Beat spoke to ICA chief curator Helen Molesworth about the exhibition:

What was the impetus for this exhibit?

There has been a veritable explosion of interest in dance by a group of emerging artists. I was curious about why this was so. I wanted to trace some of the contemporary developments that has led to this renewed interest in dance on the part of visual artists and the participation of dancers and choreographers in the art world.

This exhibit looks at the link between contemporary dance and contemporary drawing, and how, in the last century, accentuating their performative aspects, they each became less “perfected” or precious. For you, what were the specific landmarks in each discipline that marked the new era in both?

One landmark is the Judson Dance Theater, active in New York from 1962-1964. The choreographers and dancers associated with Judson developed a new dance language based on everyday movements and gestures. In doing so they profoundly changed the history of dance. At the same time their visual artist compatriots were redefining the realm of drawing in two important ways. First, in the wake of Abstract Expressionism many artist stopped drawing from the live nude. They became more interested in the process of drawing than in the final product. Second, many artists began to “draw” with string or wire or a whole host of three-dimensional lines. The shift to process over product and the expanded definition of what a drawing could be made out of were as radical as the Judson Dance Theater’s inclusion of pedestrian gestures in dance.

There are many different media at play in the exhibit: film, photography, paintings. How do you define “drawing” for this exhibit?

This is a difficult question, because the artists of the past fifty years have exploded the medium. However, I think you can define drawing, or the drawing impulse, in a variety of ways: It is concerned with the line, as opposed to color or form; there is typically a concern with movement — what is a drawing if not the record of the movement of the hand over a piece of paper; and finally there is an interest in the process of thought, by which I mean that drawing, even it its most expanded form, has a relation to language in that it structures the creation of meaning.

There are a lot of performances connected to the exhibit. In what ways are the dancers explicitly thinking about or embodying other kinds of visual art?

I can’t say for sure that the dancers in the exhibition are explicitly thinking about the visual arts, rather both the visual artists and the dancers are thinking about a shared set of concerns: the role of line and the relation of the body to the production of meaning, and the struggle to be present, even as time — in all of its ephemerality — moves on.

In researching the exhibit, did you ever go back and look at older artistic representations of dance? Did you think about the more classical representations of dance differently after spending a lot of time with the contemporary work?

Yes, I looked at a lot of early-20th century images of dance. What struck me about them is the intensity of the proscenium stage, the idea that the performance was demonstrably removed and framed for the audience. One of the great breakthroughs of the Judson group was to dance outside, or in the round, such that the dancers and the audience share the same physical plane. This, in turn, has created a much more fluid sense of the boundary of the dance and its representation in contemporary art. The role of video has also completely changed the relation between contemporary visual artists and dance.